NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — The Emmy Award-winning HBO documentary, “Ernie & Joe: Crisis Cops,” chronicles two San Antonio police officers who are diverting people away from jail and into mental health treatment.
State Senator Christie Cohen hopes to take the model Ernie Stevens and Joe Smarro used for their department and implement it in the training offered to police officers in Connecticut.
“We do have programming, but what we recognized that there are tremendous disparities from department to department,” Sen. Cohen said.
That’s why she’s pushing for Senate Bill 781, which calls for a study of how Connecticut police officers are trained in mental health and crisis intervention tactics. A central focus being de-escalation tactics.
“When we understood that we could use CIT [Crisis Intervention Training] as a vehicle to enhance or at least make officers aware of their individual wellness,” Smarro said.
“One of the biggest breakthroughs I have seen personally is that any great change starts from the inside,” Smarro added. “I think it’s important that we understand that CIT in and of itself is an incredible vehicle for police departments.”
Senator Cohen said that while she understands the dangerous and often complicated situations officers walk into every day, crisis intervention strategies are needed across the state. Understanding that sometimes people are in crisis and just need help, not jail.
Hamden police CIT officer Jeremy Brewer echoes the sentiment, saying, “When you have a crisis, you have an issue where someone’s life is just spinning, and they’ve had enough. Those are the skills we teach in CIT.”
Hoping to incite change, one 911 call at a time.
“The threat of COVID, mental illness in our communities, is on the rise. We have to re-think how we are servicing our communities,” said Tirzah Kemp of Clifford Beers.